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Candidates, state’s attorney differ on double duty for elected officials

By Annemarie Mannion and Brian Slodysko
Tribune reporters

Candidates seeking to do double duty believe there’s little chance for conflict if they sit on the county board while continuing to serve as mayor in their home communities, however not everyone agrees, including the DuPage County State’s Attorney, who called the two posts “incompatible.”

Mayors Pete DiCianni of Elmhurst and Gary Grasso of Burr Ridge have said they plan to continue in their municipal roles even if they win seats on the county board.

DiCianni, whose mayoral term is up in 2013, is vying for a District 2 post on the country board. Grasso is seeking to represent District 3. Both are running as Republicans in the March 20 primary.

DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin recently issued an opinion stating that DuPage County board members should not hold elected office on another governmental body with contractual obligations to the County Board. The opinion, based on current law, was requested by DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin.

If a local elected official takes a seat on the County Board, the candidate should resign the local office, according to Berlin.

Citing the trend of local governmental units to share or combine service, Berlin writes that it seems unlikely that a municipality would not at sometime engage in a contractual relationship with the county in such areas as investigative task forces, mutual aid agreements, radio dispatch communications, emergency management and storm water management, grants-in-aid or other intergovernmental agreements.

DiCianni did not return phone calls, but previously said he disagrees with Berlin’s opinion. He also has said that if he is elected to county board he will return his $6,000 a year mayoral stipend to the city. As a county board member, he would be paid $50,000 a year and be eligible for pension benefits if he opts to participate in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

Grasso, a lawyer, and current head of the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference, believes serving in both offices would help him to better represent his constituents.

“I don’t see what the inherent conflict is,” Grasso said, referring to the opinion issued by Berlin. “But I do respect the opinions of people who have said it is (a conflict).”

Grasso said any contracts between the county and village are not a conflict of interest because they have the same mutual interest. Grasso, whose term is up in 2013, is a lawyer whose practice specializes in ethics and professional liability litigation. He makes $6,000 a year as mayor and would continue to take it.

“Let’s put this into perspective. My … stipend is $500 a month. There is no pension, no health benefits, no life insurance, no free parking – no nothing,” Grasso said. “So if elected, yes, I intend to keep $500 a month to be mayor.”

State Sen. Ron Sandack of Downers Grove is a former mayor who held the two positions simultaneously for a time.

“I just wanted to finish what I started,” said Sandack about why he didn’t immediately give up his mayoral job when he was appointed to fill the senate seat.

He said working in Springfield while holding down the fort in Downers Grove was difficult.

“Just from a logistical standpoint, it was very challenging,” he said.

He said his roles in the senate and as mayor were compatible, but he is not sure about the dual role of mayor and county board member. He suggested that Grasso and DiCianni may want to rethink their desire to pull double duty.

“Given what the state’s attorney has issued, it seems to me that they should revisit it,” Sandack said.

Terry Pastika, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center, a non-profit that works to promote democracy, believes there are areas of interest that overlap between the county and local municipalities.

Board members holding posts as mayors could opt not to vote in matters that are a conflict of interest.

“The issue then becomes if the constituents of a public body where the recusal occurs are lacking representation,” she said.

Proposed state legislation has been introduced to clarify the issue, specifying that an elected official could simultaneously serve as a county board member and as a mayor or village president, but it does not address the issue of pensions.

“I think an issue of concern not addressed is double pensions and additional benefits for holding two positions in a time when government funding is scarce,” Pastika said.

Linda Horrell, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, said if they are elected, both DiCianni and Grasso could opt to pay into the retirement fund through the county board posts. If they give up their municipal salaries, as DiCianni has vowed to do, they would not earn credit from the municipalities toward their pensions.

“If (DiCianni) doesn’t get a salary as mayor he wouldn’t earn service credits,” she said.

Horrell said another issue that remains to be resolved is whether it would be legal for DiCianni not to draw his mayoral salary.

• Tribune reporter Bill Ruthhart contributed.

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